News and views on motorsports

Monday, March 21, 2005

Malaysian GP Notes

It might be hazy in Sepang but to me its blue skies and sunshine. Ferrari, the doyens of unsporting behaviour, utterly dominant in 2004, now stands vanquished. Completely beaten and summarily dismissed. Reminds me of the good old days when Renault engined cars dominated the field leaving the men from Maranello to grind away in the bottom half of the grid.

First qualifying gave early signs of things to come with the Renaults of Alonso and Fisichella in first and third, split by Jarno Trulli's emergent Toyota. Running on light fuel loads Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren ended up in fourth position. Ferrari? Way back in midfield, in amongst similarly engined Saubers. Of course, plenty of talk from the drivers about fighting back in second qualy with race fuels loads blah blah blah. Looking at the first qualy lap times though you suspect that something was greatly amiss when Alonso's Renault ended up around 1.5 seconds faster than Barrichello with Michael even further back.

Second qualifying saw the same top threee positions on the grid. However, below the top three, there were some changes. Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren exhibiting signs that it was not quite comfortable on full tanks. If you watched the race in Sepang, you'd notice that through the esses of turns 5 and 6, the McLaren's traction control kept coming back on intermittently. Alonso's Renault by contrast, powered through the complex with smooth precision, engine not absolutely constant without any interruption from the traction systems. Ferrari also experienced the same traction problems the previous day, their engine notes sounded horrific as the traction systems came to the driver's aid. Same in qualifying 2. You knew then that this was going to be Renault's race.

There were some suggestions that Ferrari were running a heavy load for longer stints. Checking the lap times though revealed that everyone was running about 3 seconds slower than the previous day. So, it seemed that everyone was on similar strategy. Toyota were looking quick. However, there were some doubts as to whether their tyres would last the heat of Sepang. After all, in the cool Melbourne weather, it ended up blistered and destroyed.

Come the race, the top three simply ran away with it. Honda though suffered a massive blow very early on when both cars suffered engine failures, with a minute of one another. Talk about your precision engineering. Alonso meanwhile was opening up a gap, posting some consistently fast lap times. Time and again, Alonso managed the fastest lap. Fisichella meanwhile managed to stay with Trulli in the early stages before aerodynamic problems set in, resulting in understeer, something that Giancarlo had complained about all weekend long.

The Ferraris? Oh, the joy of seeing them being left behind lap after lap by the frontrunners. I watched the lap timings closely. Both Ferraris were consistently 2.5 seconds slower than Alonso's Renault. 2.5 seconds! Whilst Alonso was consistently in the 1m 36s bracket and dipping into the 1m 35s on occassions, the Ferraris could at best manage high 1m 37s. Their lap times were mostly within the 1m 38s bracket. At that point of the race, I would have imagined them being lapped. Man, just how good can life get?

Alonso was in a class of his own. However, Trulli, somehow managed to whip up some good lap times as well. Not consistently as good as Alonso's but his fastest lap was actually quicker than the Spaniards. In fact, Raikkonen's fastest lap eclipsed them all, being the fastest of the race. This brings me to think that the McLarens are quite good on a light fuel load but when loaded with fuel they're not quick at all. Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya being dropped to the tune of about a second a lap by the front runners.

But how about those Red Bulls? Coulthard making an impressive move on Barrichello through turn 4, with Christian Klein, following close behind. It looks like I've underestimated the young Austrian. He out qualified Coulthard and managed to race hard against the Ferraris. Given a few more laps, I have no doubt that Klein would have made it past Michael Schumacher. And really he deserved to.

Even Saubers were battling hard against their engine masters. Massa and Villeneuve mixing it with Schumacher and Barrichello. I have a feeling the tyres on the Ferraris simply can't match the French rubber on most of the runners. Bridgestone apparently made a tyre that was too hard for Melbourne. In Sepang it looked like they made it too soft. Barrichello retired from the race, with tyres that were almost totally destroyed. Hah!

But the surprise was Jarno Trulli in the Toyota. I fully expected them to lose it as the race progressed. But Jarno's early stints pulled him far away from any threats behind. His tyres were blistered but he managed to control his pace and conserve his rubber, making it into second spot. Mike Gascoyne's job is safe. The Toyota team clearly jubilant after the race. You could feel the tension ooze out of them, now that their target for this year has already been achieved.

Ralf Schumacher was involved in an exciting battle with the two guys from his former team. I have often criticized Sepang for being a place not easy to overtake. I was proven wrong. The battle between Heidfeld, Webber and Schumacher easily being one of the most exciting moments in Formula 1 in quite a while. Webber attacking Ralf with Heidfeld keeping close watch and then coming back to surprise both of them. Superb stuff. In general also, the drivers seem to profess a fondness for the Sepang circuit. Many commenting on the good mixture of fast and slow corners and therefore being a good testing ground for forthcoming races.

Towards the end of the race, Alonso was clearly slowing down and conserving his package. Both he and Trulli in the end were lapping in the 1m 40s bracket, some 5 seconds off the ultimate pace. Had this race been run under the previous regulations, I have absolutely no doubt that at least Alonso would have lapped Schumacher's surviving Ferrari.

It was fantastic to see a subdued Ferrari pit at the end of the race. Two weeks ago Barrichello claimed that no crisis existed in Ferrari and everything was under control. Tough talk also from Michael Schumacher prompted the others to be cautious. A great result then. Ferrari, clearly making an enormous error in using a modified F2004. The new rules obviously require a whole different philosophy and direction in design. The F2005 is now expected for Bahrain. If Ross Brawn is to be believed its roughly a second faster than the current car. That still won't be enough against the might of today's Renault. Still, it is currently in development, so the truth will be revealed in three weeks.

In the meantime, I shall bask in the glory of a humiliated Ferrari team. As will all racing fans who truly appreciate motor racing.

1 comment:

Jay Steele said...

Ha ha. Cheers mate.